Ohio Wrestling Fans Guide to the NCAA Wrestling Championships
The following is a breakdown of what to expect this weekend at the greatest show in wrestling- the NCAA Tournament. The guide below will help you separate the contenders from the pretenders, let you know what match-ups to look for, and let you know where surprises are likely. Remember to tune in to www.espn3.com starting on Thursday at Noon to watch the wrestling on all mats (if you log in to Trackwrestling.com, you can see who is coming up on what mat, so the key is to have them both open). With no further ado, here is the breakdown:
Projected NCAA Champions:
Logan Stieber (141 lbs. #2 seed)- Logan Stieber has moved up a weight this year, and with the exception of one terrible match against Zane Retherford (where illness may or may not have played a role), he has been better than ever. How good is Logan? In two years of wrestling a Big Ten schedule- including the NCAA Tournament at Big Ten’s- there are only two opponents that he has failed to pin, technical fall, or major decision (Tony Ramos and Zane Retherford). This year, he has only stepped up the dominance- including two major decisions over long-time archrival and 2x All-American Chris Dardanes, and techs of #8 Luke Vaith and All-American Nick Lester (who he also pinned in a match where he almost had him teched in the first period). That said, Stieber will face two major tests this weekend.
The first of these tests will be in the form of Zane Retherford. Of course, Retherford famously defeated Logan in the December dual, and went unbeaten all the way up to the Big Ten finals. That said, from what I saw at their Big Ten final, if Stieber is firing on all cylinders, there is no way that Retherford should beat him again. The final score was 7-3, but that score makes it seem closer than it actually was. Stieber lead 7-1 late in the bout and was looking for another set of backs when Retherford reversed him. In my opinion, Logan simply has too much speed, power, and experience for the freshman. That said, Retherford is a relentlessness competitor, and his outstanding riding skills have the ability to change the momentum of a match as they did in the dual, if he can get on top early in a bout and wear Stieber down.
On a side note- Retherford is about 50-50 to advance to meet Logan in my opinion, as he has the worst draw imaginable. In the first round, he faces Ugi Khishgnyam of Citadel. “Ugi” is somehow unseeded, despite placing 4th at this weight a year ago. Certainly he has had a few head-scratching losses, but he still comes in at 22-3, and anyone who placed 4th in the NCAA’s can certainly “return to form” at any time. In the second round, Retherford faces Edgar Bright. Bright is about the toughest matchup of the lower seeds in the bracket for Retherford it would seem. As a sophomore in high school, Bright twice defeated Retherford (once by fall) and this year he lost to him just 3-2 (my understanding is that it was on a late takedown). Retherford does not seem to be a big or a strong 141, and the size and power of Bright may prove problematic for the Penn State freshman. In the quarters, Retherford should face Chris Dardanes of Minnesota. While he previously beat Dardanes by a decisive 4-0, you certainly cannot overlook the Minnesota Junior, who has placed 4th and 6th at NCAA’s the past two years.
Logan’s second major test would come in the form of one of two arch rivals- either #1 seed Mitchell Port, or #4 seed Devin Carter. Both of these wrestlers are certainly good enough to be an NCAA Champion. Port was runner-up a year ago, and this year has become much more dominant on his way to an unbeaten season in which he has almost never been pushed. History is on his side if they meet- Stieber beat Port by approximately eight or nine points at the Dapper Dan when they were seniors in high school. The second possibility is Devin Carter. Carter, of course, is one of the most highly regarded wrestlers in any weight, but tore his hamstring in December at Vegas and appeared to be out for the season, only to make a dramatic comeback at the EWL, where he placed first with solid wins over two excellent wrestlers. With two more weeks to get healthy and in wrestling shape before NCAA’s, he will only be better. Stieber also has a dominant history over Carter (11-4 win at Ironman when they were seniors, and a 6-1 win two years in the dual at Ohio State) but Carter had a monster freestyle season as a redshirt last year (including winning a tourney where world teamer Reece Humphrey placed third in the same weight) and is as dangerous a wrestler as there is in college today.
David Taylor (165 lbs, #1 seed) - Simply put, David Taylor looks to put an exclamation point on one of the all-time great collegiate careers and win his second Hodge Title. Like Stieber, the dominance of Taylor can be quantified quite well by bonus point statistics- over the past two years, over more than 60 matches, the only wrestler that Taylor has not scored bonus points on is 4x NCAA Champion Kyle Dake (former NCAA Runner-up Tyler Caldwell held him to a 5-2 decision, but Taylor owns two prior major decisions of Caldwell previous to that). I do not have any official data on this, but it’s my belief that either Taylor or Stieber possibly holds the all-time record for career percentage of bonus point victories (other possibilities would be Cael Sanderson or Dan Gable, pretty good company to be in for these Ohio natives). It should be noted that when Gable competed the matches were nine minutes, and freshmen were not allowed to compete, two huge advantages, as Gable would have likely had more regular decisions as a freshman, and an extra two minutes would be HUGE in the effort to score bonus points.
Only because his victory is so inevitable is there so little to analyze about Taylor this weekend. A match-up with Sulzer would be fascinating not only because both are from Ohio, but because both are pure action for seven minutes. Moreover, I think I speak for all Ohio wrestling fans (and fans throughout the nation) when I say that it has been truly a treat to watch DT compete over the past eight years, going from an undersized freshman 103 to one of the best college wrestlers of his era. In almost every David Taylor match, there is something that happens that is just unbelievable, often that I don’t have a name for. Expect to be dazzled yet again this weekend.
Projected All-Americans (In order of weight class)
Ryan Taylor (125 lbs, #7 seed)- Super-slick takedown artist Ryan Taylor (or “Bradley Taylor” as he appears on the bracket) is the first of two Graham freshman who are absolutely tearing up the collegiate ranks for the Wisconsin Badgers. Taylor just keeps getting better and better, most recently taking 3rd in the loaded Big Ten. At that tourney, his only loss was by one point to 2x NCAA Finalist Nico Megaludis, and among his great wins was a convincing 9-5 win over the heralded Iowa freshman Cory Clark. Taylor earned a #7 seed, and has to like his chances of advancing to the quarters, since he owns a 15-8 win over his likely second round opponent, #10 David Terao. I forsee a great Big Ten rivalry with Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State (and also either Clark or Thomas Gilman of Iowa) developing in the years to come.
Ian Miller (157 lbs., #4 seed)- In the very tough but wide-open 157 lb. weight class, #4 seed Ian Miller of Kent State has a great shot to make the finals, and even win the entire thing. Miller projects to face #5 seeded Isaac Jordan in the quarters- he is 2-0 in this match-up counting high school, so you have to like his chances here. Should he win that bout, he faces #1 seeded James Green. Of all of the top three seeds, I like Miller’s chances the best against the highly explosive Green the best, which works out well since he would face him in the semis. The other top two seeds (St. John and Alex Dierenger) are wrestlers who are much more conservative, but because Green attacks more, this creates more openings for Ian Miller- possibly the most dangerous wrestler in college wrestling today (I narrowly favor him for this title over Dylan Ness and Devin Carter).
Ironically, I think that Miller’s toughest match-up may be in the second round, where he faces Dylan Alton. Alton may be just the #13 seed, but bear in mind he placed 3rd at this weight two years ago, and he is a solid fundamental wrestler who is much better than his seed suggests. Alton opened the season 15-0, and while he has gone 3-5 since, three of those losses were to NCAA Champ St. John, NCAA Runner-up Ness, and #1 seed James Green. In short, no wrestler in the nation faces a tougher route to being an NCAA Champion (except for possibly Retherford, as mentioned earlier) than Miller’s- Dylan Alton/Isaac Jordan/James Green/and either Dieringer or St. John in the finals. Because the road is so tough, I have to put Miller in the All-Americans category.
Isaac Jordan (157 lbs., #5 seed)- the Wisconsin (formerly of St. Paris Graham) freshman is a guy that never really got his due in high school- but then wrestling after Bo Jordan every match will do that to you. Now that he is in college, he has certainly stepped out of that considerable shadow. All Jordan has done this year- among other great wins- is defeat defending NCAA Champion Derek St. John and hand #1 seeded James Green his only loss. Extremely difficult to score on, he would seem to be the type of wrestler that would give Ian Miller difficulty, but Miller did beat him 10-7 earlier in the year. In their high school match-up at Ironman (when Miller was a junior and Jordan was a sophomore) I believe that Jordan got three of four, or even four of five takedowns if memory serves me correctly, but lost because he gave up a five point move. So Miller over Jordan is at best a 60-40 proposition (probably more like 51-49).
Nick Sulzer (165 lbs, #3 seed)- the former Lakewood St. Edward standpoint has an excellent chance of making it an All-Ohio final with David Taylor. Seeded #3, Sulzer is one of the most improved wrestlers in college today, a year after taking 8th place at NCAA’s. He roars in to the competition with a 32-1 record, with the vast majority of those wins being very dominant. Sulzer is constantly attacking, and constantly scoring, just like he did during his brilliant senior season of high school. To reach the finals, he will have to avenge a 2-1 loss to 3x All-American and former finalist Tyler Caldwell, no easy task. Looking ahead to next year- mark the prediction that your NCAA Final at 165 will be an All-Ohio affair- Sulzer vs. Bo Jordan.
Max Thomusseit (184 lbs, #4 seed)- Thomusseit comes in as the #4 seed, with just two losses, both to the #1 seeded Sheptock. In the quarters, he faces 2x NCAA All-American Ethan Lofthouse, in what will be far from an easy road to the finals. While I do think he has an outside shot at the finals, he cannot complain about ending up on the opposite side of the bracket from 2x NCAA Champ Ed Ruth and super-frosh Gabe Dean (the wrestler who stunned Ruth at Southern Scuffle).
Surprisingly (given his seed), Thomusseit is far from a lock to make All-American. His quarterfinal match-up with #5 Lofthouse is a 50-50 proposition. Should he lose that match, he projects to face 2013 All-American Ryan Loder. Loder has wrestled a shortened season and perhaps for that reason is seeded only #15, but when you look at his complete career, one could easily see him finish as high as 4th or 5th. If Thomusseit wins against either Lofthouse or Loder, he should do the same.
Nick Heflin (197 lbs., #1 seed)- Heflin has labeled himself “The Darkhorse 197” on Twitter, but as the #1 seed, he has gone from Darkhorse to favorite. I at first had “Hef” in the “projected champions” category. It is very plausible that he belongs there, after all, he is the #1 seed, the Big Ten Champion, and owns wins over the likes of #3 Morgan McIntosh, #4 Scott Schiller (twice), and #7 Travis Rutt, with only a loss to an unseeded wrestler that everyone considers to be an aberration. While I’ve got my heart set on Heflin to win it- and certainly there is nobody more deserving than the workhorse from Massillon Perry- my “head” has to say “All-American” rather than National Champion for two reasons.
The first reason is that I believe that true frosh J’Den Cox has emerged as the class of the weight. Cox had two close losses early in the year, but just to show how much he has progressed, he avenged one of those losses by major decision (against VASJ product Phil Wellington) at the recent MAC Tournament. Indeed, since his loss to #5 seed Kyven Gadson at Southern Scuffle in January, he’s been untouchable. I forsee Cox becoming an extremely rare true freshman champ- and setting the stage for what should be an unbelievable collegiate rivalry with Ohio State uber-recruit Kyle Snyder.
The second reason I cannot project Heflin champion is that he will almost certainly wrestle three razor close matches, and the odds of winning all three seem slim. In the quarters, he should face either the aforementioned Wellington or #9 seed Christian Boley, and while he should win, it’s not a shoe-in. In the semis, he has either Kyven Gadson- the #5 seed who many thought should have gotten the #1 or #2 seed or #4 Scott Schiller. Hopefully for Heflin, it’s Schiller since he has already proven he can beat him twice before. And in the finals, it should be J’Den Cox. A tough road to say the least.
Now- on the upside- first, “Hef” is absolutely not a small 197, despite moving up from 174 last season. In fact, he is as big and strong as anyone at this weight. Second, Heflin is the most battle-hardened wrestler in this weight, after three years of absolute wars in the loaded 174 weight. If a match comes down to a takedown in the last minute, or overtime rideouts, nobody has “been there, done that” more than Nick. Third, the last two years Heflin has out-performed his seed and placed 5th at NCAA’s, so if he can continue his trend of saving the best for last, he should be ok. At the end of the day, only the sheer outstanding-ness of J’Den Cox stops me from considering him the best choice for National Champion.
“On the Bubble” for All-American Status
Johnni DiJulius (133 lbs, #9 seed)- It can be said without question that nobody in the “on the bubble” category has posted as many marqee wins as the ninth-seeded DiJulius this year. “Johnni D.” has beaten All-American Cody Brewer twice (once by fall), Penn State’s Jimmy Gullibon twice (a rare four-time state champion in Pennsylvania’s “AAA” Division), and Shelton Mack, who made the “Round of 12” a year ago. And, oh yeah, he beat #1 seed Joe Colon, and it wasn’t close. The official score of the match is listed as 6-2, but in reality “Johnni D.” was awarded two late backpoints that were never recorded at the scorer’s table, so the score should have been 8-2. Simply put, DiJulius out-wrestled Colon in all three positions in that bout. The win is extremely impressive when you consider that Colon has wins over the following wrestlers this fall- NCAA 2nd/3rd Tony Ramos (by fall), NCAA 3rd (and three-time All-American) Tyler Graff (a wrestler who beat Logan Stieber this summer in freestyle) twice, NCAA 4th AJ Schopp, and All-Americans Cody Brewer and Cashe Quiroga. Simply put, Colon could be up for the Hodge if he hadn’t lost to DiJulius (and if there were not for the brilliance of David Taylor making it a foregone conclusion).
And yet, with all of those great wins, DiJulius remains on the bubble for All-American status. Simply put, this weight class is staggeringly tough. For starters, you’ve got eight returning All-Americans, and that doesn’t even include #1 seeded Joe Colon who believe it or not is not an All-American yet (in part due to the fact he was kicked off of the Northern Iowa squad last year). Beyond those nine, you’ve got the outstanding quartet of #6 Mason Beckman, #9 DiJulius, #10 Nick Soto, and #12 Joe Roth, all of whom have multiple wins over returning All-Americans this year. Throw in an outstanding freshman quartet of Zane Richards, Mark Grey, Jimmy Gullibon, and Rossi Bruno- all of whom were truly marquee high school wrestlers and have continued their progression in college- and you can see that DiJulius will have to be on his “A-Game”. Basically, he will need to return to the form that he wrestled at when he won Vegas in December to make the podium. In the second round, DiJulius faces All-American David Thorn, who he has lost to twice before this year. That said, the bouts have been close and this is a winnable match. Interestingly, should he win that bout, he would face Colon in the quarters. Should DiJulius lose to either Thorn or Colon, he would project to eventually face either Beckman or 2x NCAA All-American Ryan Mango in the All-American round. It’s “doable”, but there is literally zero margin for error.
David Habat (149 lbs, #8 seed) Habat is the first of three Ohio wrestlers at this weight who have a legitimate chance at making All-American. 149 is a weight class where you can truly throw out the seeds in my opinion. There is a little separation from the field in the top four or five wrestlers, but this is the kind of weight where if #14 Sakaguchi (a two-time All-American) were to knock off #3 Villalonga in the second round, it would hardly qualify as an upset. Habat comes in at 26-4, but he’s always been hot and cold, going back to his freshman year in high school where he famously knocked off two-time state champ Tony Jameson at Districts, only to get majored by him the following week at state. Three of his losses came in a mid-season slump (the other being a shocking fall early in the year to Randy Languis of Ohio State) but since then, he’s on a ten match win streak, including his second win over All-American Zach Neibert. Habat has a key second round match with another hot-and-cold wrestler- #9 Eric Grajales of Michigan. Winning this bout will be key, because in a weight class this deep, the last thing you want is to get into the consolations early.
Gus Sako- (149 lbs., #7 seed)- Like Isaac Jordan before him, Sako is another wrestler who maybe never got his due back in the day due to being in the shadow of an outstanding teammate (Jamie Clark), but has continue to progress in college, to the point where he is the #7 seed at the NCAA Tournament. Like Habat, Sako has a tremendously important second round bout, with #10 seed Zach Neibert. Sako already owns a 5-3 win over Neibert, but who wins this one is truly anyone’s guess. If you are watching from home, be sure not to miss it- it should be an exciting all-out “funkfest” between these two often unorthodox wrestlers.
Zach Neibert (149 lbs, #10 seed)- Despite being the lowest seed of the three, and losing head to head to both Habat and Sako, I think Zach Neibert is the most likely to be standing on the podium on Saturday Night. A returning All-American at 141, Neibert had somewhat of what I would call a “transition” to 149, but has been dynamite in the second half of the season. Over his last 14 matches, the former St. Paris Graham standout is 13-1, with his only loss being to #3 seed Villalonga in overtime rideouts. Along the way he has a 10-6 win over 2x All-American Sakaguchi, a 10-1 win over a tough Michael DePalma of Kent State, and two wins over Mikey Racciato (who recently upset Sako). I’ve been a big fan of Neibert since he was in high school and I think he gets it done this weekend.
Pierce Harger (165 lbs., #7 seed)- The success of Harger is truly great to see. A legitimate title contender for three years in high school, he finally reached the state finals as a senior, only to be upset by the red-hot Comar of Twinsburg. Since then, Harger has steadily progressed, to the point where the Northwestern Junior is the #7 seed. I have Harger in the “on the bubble” category because he has a very tough draw in my view. In the second round, he faces #10 Cooper Moore. Harger previously pinned Moore, but a #7 vs. #10 match is always a 60/40 proposition, and if Harger loses, he would likely face either #4 Steve Monk or #5 Nick Moore in the All-American round, both matches he would seem to have little chance of winning (he already lost to Nick Moore 7-2 this year, and Monk is the better of the two in my view). To even get to that match he would have to beat #15 Danny Zilverberg, who inexplicably has Harger’s number (Pierce is 0-2 against him this year).
Assuming Harger wins in the second round against Cooper Moore, he is likely to face either Dan Yates or Jackson Morse in the All-American round. Yates defeated Harger twice two years ago- ancient history when you consider Harger was a freshman, but one of those was by major and the other was a convincing win as well. Yates is the toughest #13 seed in the field possibly, in my view. All this assumes that Harger wins his first round match against Zach Toal of Missouri and formerly Troy Christian, a wrestler who defeated Harger a year ago in the wrestlebacks at NCAAs.
Cody Walters (174 lbs, #8 seed)- the former Bedford Chanel standout has made quite a name for himself at Ohio University. Walters was certainly a “stud” in high school, but needed two razor close wins (in a loaded weight) to win a single Division III state title. He promptly moved up from 152 to 174 in college, and after a redshirt year, raised eyebrows by opening his freshmen season with 20 straight wins a year ago. Walter’s kept it going all the way to NCAA’s, where he became a very rare freshman All-American with an 8th place finish. This year, Walters missed the first half of the season with an injury, and when he returned, he lost two close matches to conference rivals. At the recent MAC Tournament however, he showed he has returned to form, with wins over both of those wrestlers. The top six at this weight is as good as the top six at any weight (Logan Storley as the #6 seed should say it all), so I forsee him finishing right about where he is seeded- 8th.
Domenic Abounader (184, #9 seed)- In the fall of 2012, this site opined that Ohio had a “super six” group of seniors consisting of Bo Jordan, Nathan Tomasello, Dean Heil, Domenic Abounader, Anthony Collica, and Edgar Bright. Ok, so I wasn’t the only one who recognized the excellence of this group, but my oh my have the lived up to their billing. Making the transition to Division I college wrestling seamlessly is something very few true freshman can do, but of the three who are wrestling, all three are seeded, and the three who are redshirting may look even better as a group. Bo Jordan and Nathan Tomasello are both unbeaten in opens, and in my view, Jordan would be top four at his weight if he were wrestling (if not a finalist) and Tomasello would be in serious contention for All-American status. I also look for Dean Heil to be a serious All-American contender at either 133 or 141 next year.
Back to Abounader- wrestling an absolutely brutal schedule, he has made great strides this year, culminating in a recent 3rd place finish at Big Tens, where he avenged a loss to #8 Dudley and posted a very impressive 7-0 win over #10 Kenny Courts (his second decisive win against Courts). He then capped off the weekend with a win over 2x All-American Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota. All in all, a damn impressive trifecta of victories in one weekend. He also has decisive wins over highly regarded freshmen Mitch Sliga and Nikko Reyes, both of whom were more accomplished coming out of high school, nationally speaking. I have Abounader as “on the bubble” for All-American status because it’s almost always a 50-50 proposition when you are the #8 seed. He will have a key “rubber match” with Dudley in the second round. Winning this match will be crucial. If he loses, he projects to face #6 Jake Swartz in the All-American Round. Swartz has only one loss this year, in overtime to #3 Gabe Dean (Ed Ruth’s conqueror). If he wins against Dudley, and then loses to #1 Sheptock in the quarters, his All-American round opponent could be any of about four wrestlers, all of whom Abounader is clearly favored to beat
Phillip Wellington (197, #8 seed)- Another former D-III upperweight made good for Ohio U., despite not placing higher than 4th in the state in high school. The explosive Wellington lost at NCAA’s last year to his second round opponent, #9 seed Christian Boley, but his progression from year to year has been steady enough that I think he has surpassed him, and as mentioned previously, I do not consider Heflin to be a sure thing against him. If Wellington does not make All-American this year, you can bet the sophomore will before his career is over at his current rate of improvement.
Jeremy Johnson (285, #10 Seed)- For the former Brecksville standout, the road to standing on the podium for the second time in his career will be far from easy in a deep heavyweight class. Johnson comes in 36-3 with a boatload of pins and major decisions in a weight class of guys content to win 3-2. His losses are two #2 Nick Gwiazdowski, #3 Adam Chalfant, and #9 Conner Medberry, and he has several wins over seeded wrestlers, including #11 Marsden and #15 Fager. A key second round bout will pit Johnson versus long-time rival and #7 seed Mike McClure of Michigan State. McClure leads their series 3-1 currently. If he wins, he will likely lose to “Gwiz” in the quarters, and then face #12 Spencer Myers in the All-American round (or possibly Ernest James). Myers was an All-American back in 2011, placing 6th and beating fellow freshman Tony Nelson along the way (what a difference two years makes, Nelson is projected to win his 3rd NCAA Title this weekend while Myers has had a solid career, but has not “AA’d” again.
If Johnson loses, he will likely face either Telford of Iowa (NCAA 5th in 2012) or Adam Coon or Michigan. Coon, of course, was ranked #1 most of the year with wins over #1 Nelson, #2 Gwiazdowski, and two wins over Telford, among others, before slumping at Big Ten and not placing. Either of these wrestlers would be a very tough All-American round draw.
Darkhorse All-American Contenders
Edgar Bright (141, #14 seed)- The cases that Edgar Bright is the answer to the question “who is the best wrestler from Ohio not to win a state title” continues to get stronger (with apologies to the likes of David Bolyard, Steve Feckanin, and Zach Thompson among others). I mean, really, how did a wrestler who was 2-0 against Zane Retherford, beat Alex Cisneros (within seconds of being the second CA 4x state champ in history), Joey Ward, Kagan Squire twice, etc etc. never win a title? Major credit goes to Jake Ryan for being the guy who knocked him off.
This year, Bright made the fact that he never won a state title even more puzzling, by besting Ohio legends Anthony Collica (3x state champ and 2x Junior National Champ), and Nate Skonieczny (two-time champ and the only wrestler to beat Bo Jordan, basically ever). Bright’s win over Collica was by an eyebrow-raising 10-5 score, and he has since followed it up with two even more impressive wins over returning NCAA All-American Evan Henderson.
It certainly will not be easy, but I do see a path to All-American status if Bright can bring his “A-Game”. Assuming he loses to #3 Retherford in the second round (by no means a sure thing, given their history) he should face #11 Joey Lazor. Lazor is very fun to watch and very “dangerous” with his spladle and other big moves (apologies for using that description so often in this article but it fits Carter, Miller, Ness, and Lazor to a “T”), however, if Bright can avoid the big move and wrestle a controlled match, I like his chances in this one. Then, in the All-American round, he should face whoever wins in the second round between #9 Evan Henderson and #8 Luke Vaith, as the winner will face #1 Port in the quarters. In my view, the winner of that match will be Henderson, and Bright already owns two convincing wins over him this season. Remember the seeds are just the interpretation of the results of one particular group of very fallible people. Most of them I’ve never heard of, then there are two college coaches, one of being Tom Minkel of Michigan State University (feel free to draw your own conclusions). In my view, the folks at Intermat are more knowledgeable than the seeding committee, and for what it’s worth, they have Bright ranked higher than both Lazor and Henderson.
Anthony Collica- (141, #15 seed)- Despite his lopsided loss to Bright and his lower seed, I like Collica’s chances of sneaking for All-American status just as much. Since his loss to Bright, Collica is 10-1 on a very tough Oklahoma State schedule, with his only loss being 2-0 to Zane Retherford. Along the way he has posted two wins over former All-American Nick Lester (he’s 3-0 against him for the year) and a win over Lavion Mayes as well. I think the top four at this weight are out of striking distance for Collica, but guys like #6 Dardanes, #7 Horan, and #8 Vaith have basically been a one point or overtime match with the freshman from Solon all season. The learning curve as a true freshman will be a steep one, so it would not surprise me to see Collica surpassing guys like this by this point in the year.
Looking at Collica’s draw, it could not be much better in my view. He meets Logan Stieber in round II, so he will be heading to the consolation bracket, safe to say. In the consolations, he projects to face #10 Todd Preston. If he wins, he could project to face #5 Chris Mecate in the All-American round. It sounds like long odds for a #15 seed, but quite frankly, these may be the two most over-seeded wrestlers in the tournament. As evidence of this- consider the following: Mecate has lost four matches to wrestlers seeded lower than him, but owns zero wins over wrestlers seeded higher. Intermat has him #7 (note that is almost as likely that he will face #12 Durso in the AA round, as Durso has a great chance of beating Mecate in my opinion). Todd Preston as the #10 seed is possibly the worst seeding decision in NCAA History. Preston opened the year with on a weak Harvard schedule 8-6…with five of losses to wrestlers who did not even qualify for the NCAA Tounament and the other to an unseeded wrestler (in fairness, one of those wrestlers, Anthony Abidin would have qualified if injury didn’t cut his season short). Since then, he’s 13-1, but there is only one win over a noteworthy wrestler in that stretch (#8 Vaith), and the loss was to Nevinger, who didn’t earn a seed (more on that below). Intermat didn’t even see fit to rank Preston in their Top 20. In my view, Collica will beat Preston should they meet as expected in the second round consolations (Preston will first have to get past tough veteran Colin Johnston of WVU, a 50-50 proposition in my view despite the fact that Johnston is unseeded).
It should be noted that the depth in this weight class is just unbelievable, just like at 133. You’ve got three All-Americans who failed to earn a seed despite the fact that 16 wrestlers are seeded this year. When you look closer it’s even more shocking- one of those wrestlers, the aforementioned Ugi Khishgnyam, placed 4th at this weight a year ago. Another of them, Mike Nevinger of Cornell, was 5th a year ago and is a 2x NCAA All-American. Though I think both of them SHOULD have been seeded, the fact that neither crack the top 16 speaks volumes about the field, and also speaks volumes about how good true freshmen Bright and Collica have done this season. That said, I will make this prediction now, one of the two, Collica or Bright, makes All-American.
Zach Toal (165, unseeded)- Toal may be the best unseeded wrestlers in the field. He opened the season 16-1 this year, with his only loss at the hands of #2 Tyler Caldwell by a 2-0 score, before cooling off the second half of the season. The decision not to seed Toal is another strange one in my view. The Mizzou Senior comes in at 26-5, with three losses to coming at the hands of the top three of Taylor, Caldwell, and Sulzer, ones loss to #10 Moore, and the final loss being a bad loss to a wrestler he has beaten twice. I think he is better than what he has shown at times throughout his career, so perhaps he’s saving the best for last.
Kenny Courts (184, #10 seed)- Courts remains an enigma. He’s got the artillery, both on his feet and on the mat with his outstanding tilts, now the question is, is he going to use it? At times, conditioning is also an issue (see the Dudley match). At times, I am baffled by his high ranking, because he doesn’t seem to have the ledger of wins that say, a Johnni DiJulius has with a similar ranking. That said, he has been quietly consistent down the stretch other than being handled by Abounader twice. He’s got wins over solid wrestlers like #14 Rizquallah (twice), Sheridan, and Sam Wheeler (formerly of Kent State). Most impressively, he has really “handed it” to tough Illini Frosh Nikko Reyes twice, by a count of 8-1 and 16-6.
That said, Courts “luck of the draw” this weekend is as bad as any Ohio wrestler’s other than Ian Miller. In the first round, he’s got Kurtis Julson. Julson is not seeded but he’s ranked #18 by Intermat, so this is by no means an easy win. If he advances, he has 2x All-American Kevin Steinhaus. The only thing that is separating Kevin Steinhaus from going from his fourth All-American plaque is a bad draw in a loaded 184 last year (he lost in overtime to current #1 Sheptock in the All-American round a year ago), so I have a difficult time seeing him winning this one. Dropping to the consis, he would have returning All-American Ryan Loder, who unbelievably is seeded 15th, presumably because he’s wrestled a shortened season, but has had an outstanding career. Loder will certainly be in the consolations early with Courts early though, as he faces Ed Ruth in the second round. Should Courts beat Loder, he will face either Ethan Lofthouse or Max Thomusseit in the All-American Round, not a good scenario considering he is a combined 0-4 against this duo in his career.
In case you were wondering, here is the OWS Breakdown of the finalists:
125- Delgado over Garrett; Delgado has just proven he has Nashon’s number.
133- Ramos over Colon
141- Stieber over Port
149- Maple over Dardanes
157- Dieringer over Miller
165- Taylor over Sulzer
174- Howe over Perry
184- Ruth over Sheptock
197- Cox over Heflin
285- Coon over Gwiazdowski
The past five years concludes what has truly been a “Golden Age” of Ohio High School wrestling talent. As someone who followed it closely since the mid 80’s, I can tell you that without a doubt this has been an era unrivaled in elite Ohio talent. Speaking frankly, the thing talent pool in Ohio High Schools currently makes the college pool look even better. For any state to get ten out of the 80 All-Americans is very rare and extremely impressive (except for Pennsylvania perhaps), but currently, Ohio has seventeen wrestlers who are seeded in the top ten, so anything less than a dozen All-Americans might be a disappointment.
What makes this even more impressive is that in the course the last five years, Ohio has seen as nearly as many of our greatest wrestling talents throw in the proverbial towel on their career as continue it. With all of this talent, imagine a world without burnout, injuries, academic issues, etc., where you could add the likes of Chris Phillips, Felipe Martinez, Collin Palmer, Jamie Clark, Cam Tessari, Sam White and Ty Mitch to the field of Ohio wrestlers.
And then, if we really want to get greedy, remember that NCAA All-Americans Hunter Stieber and Nick Brascetta are currently redshirting, as are uber-frosh Bo Jordan and Nathan Tomasello (many feel Jordan would be a finalist this year). Even guys like George Dicamillo, Joey Ward, and Dean Heil could make a major impact if they were not redshirting. I look at that 149 lb. class, and there are literally SIX Ohio wrestlers who could be title contenders if they had stayed the course or didn’t redshirt this year- Felipe, Collin Palmer, Hunter Stieber, Jamie Clark, Cam Tessari, and Nick Brascetta. So you could make a (perfect world) scenario where Ohio finished with 20-plus All-Americans and AT LEAST a half dozen finalists.
Good luck to all Ohio wrestlers this weekend! Remember that you can watch live on www.espn3.com, cameras set up on all mats starting at Noon on Thursday! Finals will be live on ESPN on Saturday Night at 8:00 p.m.
Below is a list of all the NCAA Qualifiers, in alphabetical order by weight class, with their school, conference, and record listed. I have bold-faced Ohio wrestlers, apologies if I missed anyone:
|125||Cory Clark||Iowa||Big Ten||17||2|
|125||Joey Dance||Virginia Tech||ACC||23||8|
|125||Jesse Delgado||Illinois||Big Ten||25||2|
|125||Jared Germaine||Eastern Michigan||MAC||20||2|
|125||Earl Hall *||Iowa State||Big 12||18||12|
|125||Nick Herrmann *||Virginia||ACC||17||10|
|125||Brandon Jeske||Old Dominion||MAC||19||13|
|125||Corey Keener||Central Michigan||MAC||19||12|
|125||Edward Klimara||Oklahoma State||Big 12||18||8|
|125||Nathan Kraisser||North Carolina||ACC||25||8|
|125||Tim Lambert||Nebraska||Big Ten||22||11|
|125||Josh Martinez *||Air Force||WWC||32||3|
|125||Nicholas Megaludis||Penn State||Big Ten||26||3|
|125||Dominic Parisi||Appalachian State||SoCon||18||6|
|125||Jarrod Patterson||Oklahoma||Big 12||18||2|
|125||Dylan Peters||Northern Iowa||MAC||31||4|
|125||Jade Rauser||Utah Valley||WWC||10||3|
|125||Caleb Richardson *||Pennsylvania||EIWA||12||9|
|125||Nick Roberts||Ohio State||Big Ten||27||14|
|125||Cory Stainbrook||West Virginia||Big 12||26||14|
|125||Bradley Taylor||Wisconsin||Big Ten||17||4|
|125||Conor Youtsey||Michigan||Big Ten||19||11|
|133||Cody Brewer||Oklahoma||Big 12||20||7|
|133||Rosario Bruno *||Michigan||Big Ten||19||14|
|133||Joe Colon||Northern Iowa||MAC||30||1|
|133||Vincent Dellefave *||Rutgers||EIWA||13||10|
|133||Johnni DiJulius||Ohio State||Big Ten||26||7|
|133||Tyler Graff||Wisconsin||Big Ten||27||4|
|133||James Gulibon||Penn State||Big Ten||17||13|
|133||Dennis Gustafson||Virginia Tech||ACC||24||13|
|133||Devon Lotito||Cal Poly||Pac-12||22||9|
|133||Shelton Mack *||Pittsburgh||ACC||24||9|
|133||Dominick Malone||Northwestern||Big Ten||16||15|
|133||Matt Manley *||Missouri||MAC||23||14|
|133||Mackenzie McGuire||Kent State||MAC||27||13|
|133||Jonathon Morrison||Oklahoma State||Big 12||25||1|
|133||Joey Palmer||Oregon State||Pac-12||19||10|
|133||Vincent Pizzuto||Eastern Michigan||MAC||20||9|
|133||Cashé Quiroga||Purdue||Big Ten||16||6|
|133||Tony Ramos||Iowa||Big Ten||27||2|
|133||Colton Rasche *||Navy||EIWA||25||12|
|133||Zane Richards||Illinois||Big Ten||25||7|
|133||Gregory Rinker||Air Force||WWC||19||11|
|133||Joe Roth||Central Michigan||MAC||23||7|
|133||Aaron (A.J.) Schopp||Edinboro||EWL||31||1|
|133||Nick Smith||Northern Illinois||MAC||8||11|
|133||David Thorn||Minnesota||Big Ten||24||6|
|141||Shyhiem Brown *||Maryland||ACC||19||8|
|141||Devin Carter||Virginia Tech||ACC||14||0|
|141||Anthony Collica||Oklahoma State||Big 12||28||7|
|141||Christopher Dardanes||Minnesota||Big Ten||25||6|
|141||Joey Delgado||Oregon State||Pac-12||24||13|
|141||Richard Durso||Franklin & Marshall||EIWA||34||3|
|141||Stephen Dutton III||Michigan||Big Ten||8||4|
|141||Josh Dziewa||Iowa||Big Ten||25||8|
|141||Laike Gardner *||Lehigh||EIWA||17||8|
|141||Avery Garner||Utah Valley||WWC||14||8|
|141||Evan Henderson||North Carolina||ACC||33||6|
|141||Zach Horan||Central Michigan||MAC||30||4|
|141||Colin Johnston *||West Virginia||Big 12||28||8|
|141||Undrakhbayar Khishignyam||The Citadel||SoCon||22||3|
|141||Joey Lazor||Northern Iowa||MAC||16||5|
|141||Nick Lester||Oklahoma||Big 12||17||11|
|141||Chris Mecate||Old Dominion||MAC||27||7|
|141||Gabe Moreno||Iowa State||Big 12||16||19|
|141||Daniel Neff||Lock Haven||EWL||31||8|
|141||Zain Retherford||Penn State||Big Ten||29||1|
|141||Steven Rodrigues||Illinois||Big Ten||12||9|
|141||Danny Sabatello *||Purdue||Big Ten||22||12|
|141||Tyler Scotton||Boston U.||EIWA||17||11|
|141||Sam Speno||NC State||ACC||24||10|
|141||Logan Stieber||Ohio State||Big Ten||25||1|
|149||Justin Arthur *||Clarion||EWL||26||14|
|149||Christian Barber||North Carolina||ACC||32||10|
|149||Tywan Claxton *||Ohio||MAC||26||7|
|149||Dyllan Cottrell||Appalachian State||SoCon||26||1|
|149||Nick Dardanes||Minnesota||Big Ten||32||3|
|149||Michael Depalma||Kent State||MAC||24||18|
|149||James English||Penn State||Big Ten||11||5|
|149||Matthew Frisch||The Citadel||SoCon||27||9|
|149||Eric Grajales||Michigan||Big Ten||20||10|
|149||Brody Grothus *||Iowa||Big Ten||23||10|
|149||Robert Jillard||Northern Illinois||MAC||9||8|
|149||Joshua Kindig||Oklahoma State||Big 12||20||8|
|149||Alex Kocer||South Dakota State||WWC||29||11|
|149||Rylan Lubeck||Wisconsin||Big Ten||12||12|
|149||Macaulay Maldarelli||Lock Haven||EWL||33||14|
|149||Kendric Maple||Oklahoma||Big 12||22||4|
|149||Mike Morales||West Virginia||Big 12||19||7|
|149||Zach Neibert||Virginia Tech||ACC||22||7|
|149||Ian Paddock *||Ohio State||Big Ten||25||14|
|149||Alexander Richardson||Old Dominion||MAC||25||8|
|149||Scott Sakaguchi||Oregon State||Pac-12||29||9|
|149||Jake Sueflohn||Nebraska||Big Ten||29||4|
|149||Jason Tsirtsis||Northwestern||Big Ten||27||3|
|157||Dylan Alton||Penn State||Big Ten||18||5|
|157||Zach Brunson||Illinois||Big Ten||22||12|
|157||Justin DeAngelis||Oklahoma||Big 12||16||5|
|157||Alex Dieringer||Oklahoma State||Big 12||27||1|
|157||Thomas Gantt||NC State||ACC||32||8|
|157||James Green||Nebraska||Big Ten||29||1|
|157||Paul Hancock *||Army||EIWA||27||12|
|157||Isaac Jordan||Wisconsin||Big Ten||27||5|
|157||Immanuel Kerr-Brown *||Duke||ACC||25||11|
|157||Joshua Kreimier||Air Force||WWC||14||8|
|157||Ian Miller||Kent State||MAC||27||4|
|157||Brian Murphy||Michigan||Big Ten||18||7|
|157||Joseph Napoli *||Lehigh||EIWA||12||3|
|157||Dylan Ness||Minnesota||Big Ten||19||5|
|157||Cody Pack||South Dakota State||WWC||28||6|
|157||Roger Pena||Oregon State||Pac-12||33||4|
|157||Luke Smith||Central Michigan||MAC||19||10|
|157||Austin Sommer *||Drexel||EIWA||14||13|
|157||Derek St. John||Iowa||Big Ten||25||4|
|157||Nestor Taffur||Boston U.||EIWA||35||2|
|157||Aaron Walker||The Citadel||SoCon||30||7|
|157||Taylor Walsh||Indiana||Big Ten||34||5|
|157||Tristan Warner||Old Dominion||MAC||19||11|
|157||Brandon Zeerip *||Eastern Michigan||MAC||20||12|
|165||Joseph Brewster *||South Dakota State||WWC||22||14|
|165||Tyler Caldwell||Oklahoma State||Big 12||24||3|
|165||Curtis Cook||Utah Valley||WWC||7||7|
|165||Pierce Harger||Northwestern||Big Ten||26||7|
|165||Jacob Kemerer *||Lock Haven||EWL||22||8|
|165||Ryan Leblanc||Indiana||Big Ten||35||13|
|165||Turtogtokh Luvsandorj||The Citadel||SoCon||35||6|
|165||Steven Monk||North Dakota State||WWC||31||1|
|165||Chris Moon *||Virginia Tech||ACC||21||9|
|165||Nick Moore||Iowa||Big Ten||21||3|
|165||Cooper Moore||Northern Iowa||MAC||26||6|
|165||Michael Moreno||Iowa State||Big 12||26||7|
|165||Jackson Morse||Illinois||Big Ten||25||6|
|165||John Staudenmayer||North Carolina||ACC||14||12|
|165||David Taylor||Penn State||Big Ten||29||0|
|165||Peyton Walsh *||Navy||EIWA||25||12|
|165||Mitchell Wightman||Boston U.||EIWA||23||13|
|165||Austin Wilson||Nebraska||Big Ten||22||14|
|165||Daniel Yates||Michigan||Big Ten||18||7|
|165||Daniel Zilverberg||Minnesota||Big Ten||19||13|
|174||Mathew Brown||Penn State||Big Ten||28||4|
|174||Cody Caldwell||Northern Iowa||MAC||16||13|
|174||Billy Curling||Old Dominion||MAC||17||8|
|174||Tony Dallago||Illinois||Big Ten||20||11|
|174||Michael Evans||Iowa||Big Ten||25||4|
|174||Austin Gabel *||Virginia Tech||ACC||13||7|
|174||Brian Harvey *||Army||EIWA||28||10|
|174||Andrew Howe||Oklahoma||Big 12||24||1|
|174||Shane Hughes *||Columbia||EIWA||22||8|
|174||Robert Kokesh||Nebraska||Big Ten||32||1|
|174||Joe Latham||Oregon State||Pac-12||27||14|
|174||Scott Liegel||Wisconsin||Big Ten||18||13|
|174||Caleb Marsh *||Kent State||MAC||18||11|
|174||Mark Martin||Ohio State||Big Ten||27||11|
|174||Mike Ottinger||Central Michigan||MAC||25||5|
|174||Chris Perry||Oklahoma State||Big 12||25||1|
|174||Pete Renda||NC State||ACC||27||9|
|174||Jakob Scheffel||West Virginia||Big 12||29||8|
|174||Logan Storley||Minnesota||Big Ten||30||5|
|174||Tanner Weatherman||Iowa State||Big 12||22||14|
|174||Hayden Zillmer||North Dakota State||WWC||27||6|
|184||Domenic Abounader||Michigan||Big Ten||15||9|
|184||Nolan Boyd *||Oklahoma State||Big 12||29||11|
|184||Kenny Courts||Ohio State||Big Ten||29||7|
|184||Jack Dechow||Old Dominion||MAC||17||4|
|184||Timothy Dudley *||Nebraska||Big Ten||25||6|
|184||Fred Garcia||Lock Haven||EWL||24||7|
|184||Jackson Hein *||Wisconsin||Big Ten||12||7|
|184||Devin Hightower||Air Force||WWC||17||11|
|184||Phillip Joseph||Eastern Michigan||MAC||23||7|
|184||Kurtis Julson *||North Dakota State||WWC||21||11|
|184||Ryan Loder||Northern Iowa||MAC||12||2|
|184||Ethen Lofthouse||Iowa||Big Ten||20||3|
|184||Austin Morehead||Oregon State||Pac-12||21||10|
|184||Lazarus Reyes||Illinois||Big Ten||18||12|
|184||John Rizqallah||Michigan State||Big Ten||20||10|
|184||Edward Ruth||Penn State||Big Ten||29||1|
|184||Lucas Sheridan *||Indiana||Big Ten||27||14|
|184||Blake Stauffer *||Arizona State||Pac-12||23||9|
|184||Kevin Steinhaus||Minnesota||Big Ten||21||6|
|184||Jacob Swartz||Boise State||Pac-12||13||1|
|184||Nick Vetterlein||Virginia Tech||ACC||25||8|
|184||Lelund Weatherspoon||Iowa State||Big 12||24||9|
|197||Braden Atwood||Purdue||Big Ten||25||10|
|197||John Bolich *||Lehigh||EIWA||16||13|
|197||Nick Bonaccorsi *||Pittsburgh||ACC||21||12|
|197||Nathan Burak||Iowa||Big Ten||16||5|
|197||James Fox *||Harvard||EIWA||15||9|
|197||Kyven Gadson||Iowa State||Big 12||25||2|
|197||Mario Gonzalez||Illinois||Big Ten||10||4|
|197||Marshall Haas||The Citadel||SoCon||25||17|
|197||Nick Heflin||Ohio State||Big Ten||24||1|
|197||KaRonne Jones||NC State||ACC||14||13|
|197||Timothy McCall||Wisconsin||Big Ten||16||14|
|197||Morgan McIntosh||Penn State||Big Ten||27||3|
|197||Taylor Meeks||Oregon State||Pac-12||27||6|
|197||Chris Penny||Virginia Tech||ACC||25||11|
|197||Alex Polizzi||Northwestern||Big Ten||24||10|
|197||Blake Rosholt *||Oklahoma State||Big 12||12||8|
|197||Travis Rutt||Oklahoma||Big 12||21||5|
|197||Scott Schiller||Minnesota||Big Ten||29||4|
|285||Blaize Cabell||Northern Iowa||MAC||22||12|
|285||Adam Chalfant||Indiana||Big Ten||25||3|
|285||Adam Coon||Michigan||Big Ten||30||3|
|285||David Devine||SIU Edwardsville||SoCon||26||11|
|285||Amarveer Dhesi||Oregon State||Pac-12||26||7|
|285||Adam Fager *||Utah Valley||WWC||18||7|
|285||J.T. Felix||Boise State||Pac-12||23||3|
|285||Jonathan Gingrich||Penn State||Big Ten||22||8|
|285||Nick Gwiazdowski||NC State||ACC||38||2|
|285||Collin Jensen *||Nebraska||Big Ten||20||13|
|285||Evan Knutson||North Dakota State||WWC||17||10|
|285||Ross Larson *||Oklahoma||Big 12||21||10|
|285||Austin Marsden||Oklahoma State||Big 12||20||6|
|285||Mike McClure||Michigan State||Big Ten||27||7|
|285||Michael McMullan||Northwestern||Big Ten||13||4|
|285||Connor Medbery||Wisconsin||Big Ten||24||7|
|285||Anthony Nelson||Minnesota||Big Ten||26||4|
|285||Dawson Peck *||Chattanooga||SoCon||20||5|
|285||Nick Tavanello||Ohio State||Big Ten||21||17|
|285||Bobby Telford||Iowa||Big Ten||22||5|
|285||Anthony Vizcarrondo||West Virginia||Big 12||19||18|
|285||Ty Walz||Virginia Tech||ACC||25||12|